How to Capture Starbursts in Your Photos

Starbursts render a magical effect in landscape compositions, especially when the technique is done correctly. A lot of photographers capture starbursts accidentally, but if you know the exact process, you can recreate the magic at will. In this video, John Greengo describes the trick behind the effect and how to control and enhance it for stunning images:

What Causes the Starburst Effect?

A starburst is lens flare from the sun’s rays shaped into a starburst pattern. The best and easiest way to capture starbursts in your photos is to stop down to an aperture between f/11 and f/22. You can stop down even further—the more you stop down the easier it is to capture this effect—but keep an eye out for lens diffraction.

Tips for Perfecting the Starburst Effect

It helps if you can partially obscure the sun (or the light source) behind a solid object. For example, if you are shooting a sunset try to use a tree branch or a mountain or even a house to partially obscure the sun. The effect will be enhanced as a result.


The darker the surrounding area, the livelier the starburst effect, as can be seen in the image above.

Another tip that’s useful to know is that wide-angle lenses tend to be better in terms of composition compared to telephoto lenses.

aperture bladed affect starburst

The number of aperture blades affects the starburst’s shape.

One thing that you may notice when looking at different starburst images is the number of star points; they tend to be different in different images. This is relative to the lens that you are using. More specifically, it depends on the number aperture blades there are in the lens. If it has even number of blades it will produce the same number of star points as blades. If it has an odd number of blades, it will produce double the number of star points as blades.

starburst comparison

Comparison of the starburst effect captured with different lenses

Let’s say a lens has five aperture blades; it will produce 10 star points. If it has six, it will produce six star points, and if it has seven blades, it will produce 14 star points. However, the optical formula of the lens as well as how well it controls lens flares also contributes to the actual effect. Greengo prefers the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens for a beautiful, clean starburst.

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